Episode 20: Two Part Series on Mussar – Deep and Real Communal Change w/Rabbi Marcia Plumb
Rabbi Marcia Plumb is the Rabbi of Congregation Mishkan Tefila in Brookline, Massachusetts. She was the Rabbi for London’s Akiva School and the Southgate and District Reform Synagogue. For 15 years, she was the Director of Spiritual Formation at Leo Baeck, the rabbinic seminary in London. She has also served as the Rabbi at the North London Progressive Synagogue, and Congregation Beth Shalom in Connecticut. Hoping to lead others on a path towards spiritual enlightenment, she founded Neshama: For Spiritual Wellbeing, a center for spiritual reflection, meditation and the study of Mussar literature. Rabbi Plumb was ordained at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, New York. She holds a Masters in Hebrew Literature from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Los Angeles and a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Texas.
We began our conversation by discussing what the challenges and successes have been for the community in implementing Mussar as the synagogue’s organizing structure. Rabbi Plumb notes that the greatest challenge is an educational one. Most people do not know what Mussar is and so it was important to begin at the ground level and allow for people to learn about the philosophy at their own pace and for them to take on as much or little of the practice as they felt comfortable with.
One of the successes that Rabbi Plumb touched on was how it allowed for people to bring their whole selves into the community. One of the middot (attributes) that the congregation adopted was the idea of b’tzelem elohim that each and every human being is divine and that every part of their lives is filled with holiness (holy sparks, some might say) – no part of which they should feel ashamed or judged for.
Another one of the middot (attributes) that the congregation is focusing on is kavod (respect) that every person and every idea is worthy of being part of the larger conversation.
“What goes on in people’s daily lives is important. They shouldn’t leave their daily lives outside [of the community].”
-Rabbi Marcia Plumb
We also discussed how the congregation implementing this new organizing principle has impacted her own spiritual life. Rabbi Plumb says that she now feels more inspired to push for her own happiness – as the attribute of simcha – joy was one of the qualities that the congregation emphasized as being the most important to them.
As a result of pushing herself to be authentic to the things that bring her happiness and joy, it has radiated to others and the community as a whole attracts more folks to be involved as a result of the joyous atmosphere.
If you are interested in more information about what Mussar is – please watch the video below.
For some resources and books about Mussar, be sure to check out:
“Everyday Holiness: The Jewish Spiritual Path of Mussar” by Alan Morinis
There is also the Mussar Institute which hosts conferences and events.
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